Nearly 500 deer were hit by vehicles in 2015 alone, according to information from the Utah Department of Transportation (UDOT). That total includes the deer killed on Highway 191 between Peters Hill and Blanding and on Highway 491 between Monticello and the Utah–Colorado state line.
A number of steps have taken place in recent years to decrease the number of deer killed, including an experimental system along the road that was triggered by the lights of oncoming vehicles.
The efforts have been marginally effective, according to officials, and the toll of dead deer and damaged vehicles has continued to increase.
When completed later this month, the latest project will result in two functional deer tunnels under Highway 191 between Monticello and Verdure, in addition to the installation of several miles of deer fence along both sides of the road.
In theory, the deer will be funneled by the high fences toward the tunnels and thus avoid the highway.
One of the tunnels in the project is completely new, while an existing tunnel, approximately seven feet tall, will be used at the Montezuma Canyon turnoff near Bull Hollow.
The project was helped along by a generous donation from the Sportsmen for Fish and Wildlife.
In 2014, they contributed $25,000 to the project and that contribution was matched by $25,000 from San Juan County.
In addition, the San Juan County Road Department has been involved in developing the project. The tunnel engineering was completed by Jones and DeMille Engineering and Harward and Rees secured the contract to do the work.
Cost for the fencing depends on the topography of the area. In 2014, it was estimated that the cost of each mile of fencing is about $40,000, while the tunnels underneath the highway for migrating animals cost about $120,000 each.
The project is viewed by road officials as a “low-cost, high-return project.”
Eventually, a similar project involving fencing and tunnels is expected to be completed on Highway 191 between Verdure and Devils Canyon.
Approximately ten years ago, UDOT completed an extensive re-construction of Highway 191 through Devils Canyon. At that time, deer tunnels were installed under the highway. Officials state that the project was successful in decreasing the number of deer killed along that stretch of road.